Amateur radio operators band together with regular frequency

Ham radios continue to work even if the Internet and cell phone infrastructure fails during an emergency, says Charles Chivers, president of the Lambton County Radio Club, seen here at his Sarnia home. Jake Romphf

Jake Romphf

About 50 people in Sarnia-Lambton use a communication device that’s more than a century old, is independent of the Internet, and keeps on working even when the power goes out.

Amateur radios, also known as ham radios, use many frequency bands across the radio spectrum, allowing users to communication by voice or Morse code.

Battery powered ham radios are critical during emergencies when communication lines are down, said Charles Chivers, president of the Lambton County Radio Club.

In fact, Sarnia Police have a ham radio to get updates on incidents and hazards, which can then be shared with the public, he said.

“It’s easy for anyone to pick up a computer or smartphone, connect to the Internet and communicate, with no knowledge of how the devices function or connect to each other,” he said.

“If there’s an interruption of service or you’re out of range of a cell tower, you have no way to communicate.”

Yet ham radios also have the ability to connect to tablets and smartphones through apps that listen into the frequencies.

“That’s the beauty of amateur radio during a communications outage,” he said.

The non-profit club, founded in 1982, is an official part of the communication plan in Sarnia-Lambton and Ontario. Members, who receive storm-spotting training and how to read cloud formations, work with Environment Canada during severe weather.

“We tell them that trees are down, or wires are down, or there’s some other hazards out there that they haven’t found yet,” said Chivers, who has used his amateur radio to talk to people as far away as South Africa.

Sarnia-Lambton has about 50 licensed and frequent ham radio operators, but there are around 200 devices in the area, he said.

Last month, the Lambton County Radio Club took part in a national amateur radio field day in Enniskillen to show how the radios are reliable any condition and in almost any location.

“It’s a hobby and a service,” Chivers said.